Preparing Students with Disabilities for Success after School

Ensuring a strong partnership between families and schools is essential for student success, particularly for youth with disabilities. As students with disabilities transition to middle and high school, it is important for schools and families to work together to prepare them for life after graduation. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA), transition planning is required for all students with disabilities, regardless of the severity of their disabilities. General education and special education teachers are part of the students’ individualized education program (IEP) team and are responsible for supporting and preparing these students and their families throughout the transition planning process.


Transition planning is a process mandated by IDEA. Since 2004, all states are required to begin transition planning for students with disabilities by the age of 16. However, many states, including Florida, Illinois, and Pennsylvania, have chosen to lower the age for required transition planning to at least 14 years old. This decision is based on the belief that the planning process should start as early as possible.

During transition planning, schools collaborate with students with disabilities and their families to determine the education, experiences, supports, and services needed for successful adult lives after high school. This information is incorporated into the students’ IEP and reviewed annually.


Student input in transition planning is necessary, which means they should attend their IEP meetings. While some students may have limited involvement due to their disabilities, educators and families should provide support to ensure active participation in planning for the future. This support includes assisting students in identifying their strengths, interests, and goals, such as continuing education or pursuing a career. This information is valuable for the IEP team to identify appropriate support and services.

Since transition planning begins before students reach the legal age of majority, families should be involved in their children’s IEP teams throughout middle and high school. Materials provided to families should also be available in their preferred language.

To prepare families for the transition planning process, information about the process should be provided at least one year prior to the transition planning age. For example, if the transition planning age is 14 years old, information should be shared when the student is 13 years old. This gives families time to determine the suitable high school for their child with disabilities, such as a regular high school or vocational high school.


Prior to developing postsecondary goals, schools are expected to conduct various transition assessments to gather information about students’ strengths, interests, and needs related to training, education, employment, and independent living skills. Additional areas of assessment, including self-determination, assistive technology, and college readiness, may also be included.

Transition assessment is an ongoing process that allows the IEP team to monitor students’ progress toward their postsecondary goals. The assessment tools used can be formal, such as the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales, or informal, such as the Transition-to-Work Inventory.


Once all necessary transition assessments are complete, schools should share the results with the students and their families before the initial meeting. The data collected is used to create postsecondary goals and determine the necessary support and services for the students.

For example, if the results show that a student has strong academic skills and a desire to continue their education, the team may consider providing opportunities for them to take courses at a community college or university. Similarly, if a student needs to develop household tasks proficiency, steps can be taken to strengthen the skills through education and training.

The IEP team is responsible for monitoring students’ progress, conducting transition assessments, and revisiting postsecondary goals on an annual basis to ensure adequate progress is being made.

The journey of transition planning can be challenging and uncertain for students with disabilities and their families. However, with proper planning, students can acquire the necessary knowledge and skills to lead successful adult lives beyond high school.

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